NASA’s engineers took another step forward in preparations for the first test flight of new Orion spacecraft in December.
Image Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky
At the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, the three primary core elements of the ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket recently were integrated, forming the first stage of the launch vehicle that will send Orion far from Earth to allow NASA to evaluate the spacecraft’s performance in space.
The three common booster cores are 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. Each has an RS-68 engine that uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. All totaled, the three Delta IV boosters collectively generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.
The upcoming flight test will use the Delta IV Heavy to launch the Orion and send it 3,600 miles in altitude beyond the Earth’s surface. During the two-orbit, four-hour mission, engineers will evaluate the systems critical to crew safety, the launch abort system, the heat shield and the parachute system. The data gathered during the mission will influence design decisions and validate existing computer models. The flight also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for later Orion flights.